Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has called on his team’s fans to help keep reported Barcelona and Manchester United target Antoine Griezmann happy at his current club.
Griezmann was caught on camera shushing his own side’s supporters late in Atletico’s last home game after they had reacted angrily when he deliberately declined to counter-attack to protect a 1-0 lead against Valencia.
The incident highlighted the still uneasy relationship between the France international and his club’s faithful following very high-profile flirting with clubs including United and Barcelona over the last 12 months — and with speculation continuing that he could actually leave next summer.
Simeone said before the La Liga game at home against Athletic Bilbao that he was delighted to work every day with Griezmann and he hoped the team’s supporters also realised how important it was to keep a player who has six goals and three assists in his last 10 games in all competitions.
“I know [Griezmann] as I have him here every day,” Simeone said. “He is a fantastic kid, always happy, humble, motivated, with an enormous heart. A guy who helps the dressing room, is always involved. If I was an Atletico fan, I would do everything possible not to lose Griezmann. He has improved thanks to the work with the coaching staff here. When Griezmann is playing well he is a decisive player.”
Atletico return to domestic action following a 4-1 win at Copenhagen in the first leg of the Europa League’s round of 32 sitting second in La Liga — seven points behind leaders Barcelona.
Simeone said that, even after Barca had stumbled by drawing their last two Liga games, he was not getting excited thinking about a close title race.
“We just think about the game we have in front of us,” he said. “To look any further would not bring us anywhere. The reality we live in is always just the next game.”
Diego Costa looks set to return from missing two games with a muscle issue and goalkeeper Jan Oblak is also back from the flu, so Simeone’s only current injury absentee is central defender Stefan Savic.
“I do not even know the team myself yet,” Simeone said. “We will see how the players have recovered from Thursday’s game. [Costa and Oblak] have a chance as they are in the squad.”
Atletico have five wins and a draw from last six home games against Athletic, conceding just twice, while Los Leones have not won any of their last five in La Liga and will travel to the Wanda Metropolitano without their two experienced forwards, Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia.
“They will lose aerial power, but will gain in speed with [Inaki] Williams up front,” Simeone said. “He is a dangerous player. With our aim to press up we leave space behind, so we must be very aware of that.”